Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement after the U.S. Senate confirmed Judge Rossie David Alston, Jr. to serve on the Eastern District Court of Virginia. He will be the only African American judge serving in the Alexandria Division:

“We’re pleased that the Senate supported Judge Alston’s nomination for the Eastern District Court of Virginia,” the Senators said. “Based on his qualifications, we are confident he will serve with great distinction at the federal level.”

In December 2017, Warner and Kaine sent a letter to President Trump, recommending Judge Alston for the vacancy after an independent panel of attorneys from across the Commonwealth—selected by Warner and Kaine—interviewed applicants, including Judge Alston, for the position. Key members of the Virginia Bar spoke highly of Alston, who first joined the Commonwealth bench in 1998 and received an appointment to the Virginia Court of Appeals in 2009. The White House first nominated Alston in June 2018, and the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced his nomination in February 2019. The Eastern District of Virginia has offices in Alexandria, Richmond, Newport News, and Norfolk.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement:

 “The President has granted sweeping declassification powers to an Attorney General who has already shown that he has no problem selectively releasing information in order to mislead the American people. People risk their lives to gather the intelligence material that President Trump and Attorney General Barr are so eager to politicize. Selectively declassifying sources and methods in order to serve a political agenda will make it harder for the intelligence community to do their jobs protecting this country from those who wish to do us harm.”   

 

Washington – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) was joined by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in urging congressional appropriators to provide full funding for timely implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act – crucial bipartisan legislation championed by Sen. Warner and signed into law in December of 2018. The Ashanti Alert Act requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish a national communications network to assist regional and local search efforts for certain missing adults, filling a gap for missing persons who are too old for an Amber Alert and too young for a Silver Alert.

“This law was borne out of the tragic death of Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old who was abducted in Norfolk, Virginia and whose body was discovered 11 days after she was first reported missing. Because Ashanti was too old for an Amber Alert to be issued and no similar network for adults existed at the time, her parents, family, and friends struggled to get word out of her disappearance in a timely fashion,” the Senators wrote in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Full funding and timely implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act is necessary to ensure the safety of Americans.” 

The Ashanti Alert will notify the public about missing or endangered adults ages 18-64. The law instructs the Attorney General to designate a national Ashanti Alert Coordinator responsible for helping states establish alert systems and develop voluntary guidelines. Under the law, the coordinator is also tasked with providing Congress with an annual report detailing the use and progress of Ashanti Alerts in states. Last month, Sen. Warner pressed Attorney General William Barr for an update on DOJ’s progress to-date in implementing the law.  

The Ashanti Alert Act was named after Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old abducted in Norfolk, Va. on September 18, 2017, whose body was discovered in North Carolina 11 days after she was first reported missing. Sen. Warner secured unanimous passage of this bill through the Senate in December 6, 2018 by working with his colleagues to make modifications to the House bill, which had previously been blocked from passing the Senate. The bill was then signed into law by President Trump on December 31, 2019.

 

Full text of the appropriations request is below and a copy can be found here.

 

The Honorable Jerry Moran

Chairman

Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice,

Science and Related Agencies

Senate Committee on Appropriations

142 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

 

The Honorable Jeanne Shaheen

Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice,

Science and Related Agencies

Senate Committee on Appropriations

142 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

 

Dear Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Shaheen:

 

As you prepare the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 appropriations, we write to respectfully request that you work to ensure the implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act is fully funded in FY 2020.

 

On December 31, 2018, President Trump signed into law the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 (Pub L. 115-401). The Ashanti Alert Act requires the Department of Justice to establish a national communications network, named the Ashanti Alert, to assist regional and local search efforts for certain missing adults. Under the new law, the Attorney General must designate a national coordinator to work with states to establish Ashanti Alert systems and to develop voluntary guidelines that states (as well as territories) should use in creating their networks. Last Congress, the Senate and House of Representatives secured strong bipartisan support for the legislation and it passed both chambers by a near-unanimous margin.

 

This law was borne out of the tragic death of Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old who was abducted in Norfolk, Virginia and whose body was discovered 11 days after she was first reported missing. Because Ashanti was too old for an Amber Alert to be issued and no similar network for adults existed at the time, her parents, family, and friends struggled to get word out of her disappearance in a timely fashion.

 

Thus, it is imperative that the Ashanti Alert Act receives sufficient funding in order to advance its goals of transforming the lives and safety of Americans. Fully funding this program ensures that the Department of Justice, law enforcement agencies, and relevant entities and stakeholders have the necessary resources to make the Ashanti Alert network as helpful and effective as possible.

 

We hope that the Subcommittee will demonstrate strong support for the Ashanti Alert Act for FY 2020.

 

Thank you for your consideration of our request.

 

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Washington – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today wrote to Attorney General William Barr to request an update on the implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act – a piece of crucial bipartisan legislation championed by Sen. Warner and signed into law in December of 2018. The Ashanti Alert Act requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish a national communications network to assist regional and local search efforts for certain missing adults, filling a gap for missing persons who are too old for an Amber Alert and too young for a Silver Alert.

“It has now been more than two months since the Ashanti Alert Act was signed into law, and I continue to consult with stakeholders who are eager to make progress in implementing this new network so we can start saving lives,” said Sen. Warner. “I remain strongly committed to the Ashanti Alert Act and plan to actively monitor its implementation to ensure that the Department, law enforcement agencies, and relevant entities and stakeholders can work together to make the Ashanti Alert network as helpful and effective as possible.” 

The Ashanti Alert will notify the public about missing or endangered adults ages 18-64. The law instructs the Attorney General to designate a national Ashanti Alert Coordinator responsible for helping states establish alert systems and develop voluntary guidelines. Under the law, the coordinator is also tasked with providing Congress with an annual report detailing the use and progress of Ashanti Alerts in states. 

In requesting a status update on DOJ’s implementation efforts, Sen. Warner also presented the Attorney General with the following questions:

  1.  Have you designated a national coordinator to lead the implementation effort?
  2. Can you provide a timeline through which you plan to achieve important milestones in establishing this new network?
  3. What is the Department’s strategy to solicit and incorporate input from subject matter experts, local law enforcement agencies, and relevant federal agencies? Has the Department begun this outreach? 
  4. What barriers or challenges to implementation had you identified and how do you plan to address them?
  5. What additional assistance or direction from Congress is necessary to assist in your efforts? 

The Ashanti Alert Act was named after Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old abducted in Norfolk, Va. on September 18, 2017, whose body was discovered in North Carolina 11 days after she was first reported missing. Sen. Warner secured unanimous passage of this bill through the Senate in December 6, 2018 by working with his colleagues to make modifications to the House bill, which was introduced by then-Congressman Scott Taylor and had previously been blocked from passing the Senate. The bill was then signed into law by President Trump on December 31, 2019.

 

Full text of the letter is below and a copy can be found here.

 

March 21, 2019

 

The Honorable William Barr  

Attorney General 

U.S. Department of Justice 

950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C., 20530 

 

Dear Attorney General Barr,

 

I write to respectfully request an update from the Department of Justice regarding the status of implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act. As you are aware, on December 31, 2018, President Trump signed into law the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 (Pub L. 115-401). The Ashanti Alert Act requires the Department of Justice to establish a national communications network, named the Ashanti Alert, to assist regional and local search efforts for certain missing adults. Last Congress, the Senate and House of Representatives secured strong bipartisan support for the legislation and it passed both chambers by a near-unanimous margin.

 

As you know, the Ashanti Alert, similar to other missing person alert systems, would notify the public about missing or endangered adults, ages 18-64, through a national communications network to assist law enforcement in searching for the missing person, helping to save lives. This law was borne out of the tragic death of Ashanti Billie, a 19 year old who was abducted in Norfolk, Virginia and whose body was discovered 11 days after she was first reported missing. Because Ashanti was too old for an Amber Alert to be issued and no similar network for adults existed at the time, her parents, family, and friends struggled to get word out of her disappearance in a timely fashion.

 

It has now been more than two months since the Ashanti Alert Act was signed into law, and I continue to consult with stakeholders who are eager to make progress in implementing this new network so we can start saving lives. Last year, Virginia passed legislation of its own to create an Ashanti Alert network and issued its first alert last month. Extending this effort to all 50 states is, of course, a difficult and comprehensive undertaking. I strongly urge that you direct senior Department officials to prioritize implementation at the federal level.

 

Under the new law, the Attorney General must designate a national coordinator to work with states to establish Ashanti Alert systems and to develop voluntary guidelines that states (as well as territories) should use in creating their networks. Called the Ashanti Alert Coordinator, he or she would be responsible for consulting with the Secretary of Transportation, Federal Communications Commission, Assistant Secretary for Aging of the Department of Health and Human Services, and other DOJ offices in coordinating activities to support Ashanti Alerts. The Coordinator is also expected provide an annual report to Congress detailing the states that are in the process of establishing or have already established Ashanti Alerts and information on Ashanti Alert use in states. 

 

As you move forward with implementation of this law, I ask that you provide me an update on the status of your efforts. More specifically: 

 

·         Have you designated a national coordinator to lead the implementation effort?

·         Can you provide a timeline through which you plan to achieve important milestones in establishing this new network?

·         What is the Department’s strategy to solicit and incorporate input from subject matter experts, local law enforcement agencies, and relevant federal agencies? Has the Department begun this outreach? 

·         What barriers or challenges to implementation had you identified and how do you plan to address them?

·         What additional assistance or direction from Congress is necessary to assist in your efforts? 

 

I remain strongly committed to the Ashanti Alert Act and plan to actively monitor its implementation to ensure that the Department, law enforcement agencies, and relevant entities and stakeholders can work together to make the Ashanti Alert network as helpful and effective as possible.

 

I look forward to hearing back from you with this information by April 21, 2019. If I can be of assistance in addressing implementation challenges at your agency, please contact Nicholas Devereux on my staff at (202) 224-2023. Thank you again for your efforts to prioritize the implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act and to fully leverage the potential of this opportunity to transform the lives and safety of Americans.

 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement on the President’s nomination of U.S. Magistrate Judge David J. Novak for the vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division following Judge Henry E. Hudson’s decision to take senior status: 

 “We are pleased that the President has nominated Judge Novak to fill the vacancy. Based on Mr. Novak’s distinguished record, we are confident he would serve capably on the bench. We hope our colleagues will join us to support this well-qualified nominee.”

In September, Warner and Kaine sent a letter to President Trump, recommending Judge Novak for the vacancy. Mr. Novak has served as U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District since 2012. He was previously nominated to fill a seat in the Richmond Division during the 110th Congress, but his nomination expired before Congress could confirm him. 

 

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WASHINGTON – On the Senate floor today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) urged his Senate colleagues to oppose President Trump’s nomination of William Barr to serve as Attorney General.

In his floor remarks, Sen. Warner questioned Barr’s independence, citing the unsolicited memo that Barr authored and provided to the President’s legal team last June attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Emphasizing the need for an Attorney General who will protect the Special Counsel’s investigation from political interference, Sen. Warner brought up Barr’s problematically expansive views on the appropriate use of presidential pardons and questioned whether they factored into the President’s decision to nominate Barr for the position. 

Additionally, Sen. Warner raised concerns about Barr’s stances on a number of policy issues, ranging from LGBTQ equality and the role of government in women’s reproductive health care, to Barr’s support of mandatory minimum sentences and the President’s “Muslim ban.” 

Sen. Warner has been outspoken about the danger of confirming a nominee who was handpicked by the President to undermine the Special Counsel’s investigation. He recently wrote an op-ed calling for this nomination to be withdrawn. 

 

 

Below are the remarks as prepared for delivery:

 

Mr. President I rise today to oppose the nomination of William Barr to be Attorney General that the Senate will be taking up later today.

 

I do have a number of concerns about this nominee on policy grounds. I echo what my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee have said about Mr. Barr’s troubling record on important issues affecting Americans’ constitutional freedoms. 

 

He’s advocated for harsh mandatory minimum sentences, as well as the President’s Muslim Ban.

 

I also have serious concerns about his past statements about LGBTQ equality and the role of government in women’s reproductive health care.

 

As one telling example, he testified in his 1991 confirmation hearing that “Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overruled.” 

 

On all of these issues, he is entirely out of step with the views of the American public.

 

But for me, this is not simply an objection on policy grounds.

 

Nor is it a question of Mr. Barr’s experience. As a former attorney general, Mr. Barr has long been well-respected within the legal community.

 

But frankly, the nominee for our nation’s highest law enforcement position must be measured by more than his résumé.

 

Instead, this is a question of Mr. Barr’s fidelity to our Constitution.

 

I find Mr. Barr’s actions in the months leading up to his nomination to be deeply disturbing. And as a result, I have serious doubts about this nominee’s independence and willingness to stand up for the rule of law.  

 

Last June, Mr. Barr wrote a secret, unsolicited memo attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential obstruction of justice by the president, which Mr. Barr then passed to administration officials.

 

In November, President Donald Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions after months of public abuse over the Mueller investigation.

 

For a temporary replacement, he chose Matt Whitaker, whose primary qualification appears to be an op-ed he wrote decrying the scope of the Mueller probe.

 

With Mr. Barr’s nomination, it has become clear that the president’s sole concern is choosing a new attorney general who will shield him from the special counsel’s investigation. And Mr. Barr’s memo looks much more like a job application.

 

This President has repeatedly dangled the possibility of pardoning potential witnesses in the Special Counsel’s investigation.

 

Now, in Mr. Barr, the President has a nominee who has been outspoken about his expansive views on the appropriate use of the pardon powers.

 

Let’s be very clear. Any attempt by this President to pardon himself, his family, or key witnesses in the Mueller or SDNY investigations would represent an abuse of power that would require a response by Congress.

 

Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation has led to numerous indictments and convictions, including that of the president’s own campaign chairman.

 

It must continue free from political interference until it gets to the truth, and its findings must be released to Congress and the American public.

 

Under our constitutional system, no one is above the law, not even the president. We need an attorney general willing to vigorously defend this principle.

 

Consequently, I will oppose the nomination.

 

Thank you, Mr. President.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) praised final passage in Congress of the Ashanti Alert Act, legislation that will create a new federal alert system for missing or endangered adults between the ages of 18-64. Currently, the U.S. does not have an alert system for missing adults. The bill now heads to President Trump’s desk for his signature.  

The Ashanti Alert Act is named after Ashanti Billie, the 19-year-old who was abducted in Norfolk, Va. on September 18, 2017. Her body was discovered in North Carolina 11 days after she was first reported missing. At the time of Ashanti’s abduction, she was too old for an Amber Alert and too young for a Silver Alert. The Ashanti Alert, like the other alert systems, would notify the public about missing or endangered adults, ages 18-64, through a national communications network to assist law enforcement in the search. 

“In the wake of an unspeakable tragedy, Meltony and Brandy Billie did something extraordinary: they channeled grief into a determination that other families would be spared the anguish of losing a loved one like they did Ashanti. Though no one can ever erase their pain, I hope it comforts them now to know that Ashanti’s death will not have been in vain,” said Sen. Warner. “Ashanti’s memory will carry on in the lives that will be saved through this new alert system.”

“If you knew Ashanti, then you knew that you had a friend. I have said often that she never met a stranger. Though it has been hard coping with her leaving me, her earthly father, I have great joy knowing that she is with her heavenly Father and one day we will see one another again. I am eternally grateful for her life—a life well lived—because through the Ashanti Alert Act lives will be saved,” said Meltony Billie, father of Ashanti Billie. “I thank my family for carrying me when I began to weaken, I want to thank Michael Muhammad, Kimberly Wimbish, Attorney Don Scott, Delegate Jay Jones and his team, Congressman Scott Taylor and his team, Senator Mark Warner and his team, and I dare not forget about the Hampton Roads Community, and everyone who has being praying for my family.”

“We are elated that this legislation has been enacted. Just because my daughter's life was tragically cut short, that doesn't mean that my time as a mother, her mother is over; far from it. This federal legislation, the Ashanti Alert Act, is the first step in my current journey without my daughter by my side. The Ashanti Alert will be a beacon of hope for those that have a loved one deemed as missing under questionable circumstances. Our dream is to bring as many as possible of those missing back home safely,” said Brandy Billie, mother of Ashanti Billie. “I feel that Ashanti has been an angel watching not only over me, but guiding all those that have helped us. From day one the local community in the Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach, Norfolk area have welcomed us as family and helped in our search for our daughter, and we say thank you. To our team Michael Muhammad, Don Scott and Kim Wimbish who have never left our side since day one, we say thank you. To all law enforcement and FBI personnel, we say thank you. To all the news outlets that have kept her story alive, we say thank you. To Delegate Jay Jones, Congressman Scott Taylor and Senator Mark Warner, we say thank you. Through the prayer, determination, and work of such a diverse village, the Ashanti Alert Act has come to be and will save lives.”

“This law will save lives. It closes a glaring gap in our present alert system. I’m proud to have worked with Senator Mark Warner on the Ashanti Alert Act and championed its quick passage through Congress.  This law will create a real-time alert system for missing adults, providing vital information to first responders and helping save lives,” said Blumenthal.  “Ashanti’s family should be commended for sharing her story, and turning their grief and loss into meaningful action.  Their strength and advocacy will help prevent other families from going through similar tragedies,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Sen. Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, teamed up with Sen. Warner on this legislation after hearing from Ashanti’s cousin, Connecticut State Representative Patricia Billie Miller. 

“The NAACP is proud to support this crucial legislation, the Ashanti Alert Act,” said Mr. Hilary O. Shelton, the Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and the Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy.  “We are grateful to Senator Warner and Congressman Taylor for taking the lead and filling in a gap in our Nation’s safety protections.  Upon implementation of this law, we will be expanding the Amber Alert system, which has proven to be an effective tool, to include a demographic that is currently missing from its protections, those between the ages of 18 and 65.”  

“We are grateful to Senator Warner for working with the FOP to improve this legislation to make Ashanti Alerts an effective tool for law enforcement and the public.  Without his leadership, I do not think this bill would have gotten through the Congress,” said Chuck Canterbury, National President, Fraternal Order of Police.

"Virginia led the way this past legislative session by implementing a law focused on enhancing a vital component of public safety - the Amber and Senior Alert systems," said Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran.  "Delegate Jay Jones spearheaded an effort to create an Amber Alert-like system for "critically missing" adults, upon hearing the heartbreaking story of a family whose 19 year old daughter went missing in the Norfolk area. Amber Alerts and Endangered Missing Child Media Alerts are for missing persons under the age 18; and Senior Alerts are issued for persons 60 years of age or older. This leaves a gap for adults between the ages of 18 and 60 years old. The 'Ashanti Alert', named after Ashanti Billie would address an important demographic of the population, and ensure that timely and efficient messaging is delivered to residents across Virginia to aid in search efforts. This law is a step in the right direction to ensuring a safer Commonwealth for all her residents."

“Senator Warner’s Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 will help ensure that law enforcement has the information necessary to swiftly recover missing persons and accurately inform the general public about breaking news of a missing or endangered adult,” said Bill Johnson, Executive Director, National Association of Police Organizations. “NAPO believes that the establishment of a stand-alone Ashanti Alert Network will help prevent horrible tragedies like case of Ashanti Billie.  We support the Ashanti Alert Act and thank Senator Warner for working with us on this important legislation.”

“The Ashanti Alert is long overdue,” said Camille Cooper, Director Government Affairs, The National Association to PROTECT Children. “For decades, emphasis has been on finding missing children, while missing endangered adults has largely been ignored. With increases in human trafficking, murder and intimate partner violence, it’s time that the national crisis of women disappearing and being subjected to violence is met with the urgency it deserves.”

In June, Gov. Northam signed into law legislation introduced by Del. Jay Jones creating a statewide Ashanti Alert system in Virginia. In September, the House of Representatives unanimously passed its version of the Ashanti Alert Act, which was introduced by outgoing Congressman Scott Taylor. After the House bill—in its original form—was blocked from passing in the Senate, Sen. Warner worked with his colleagues to make modifications to the bill to allow for its eventual passage by unanimous consent in that chamber. This version of the bill has now passed the House and will head to the President’s desk for signature.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today cast his vote in support of bipartisan legislation that would reform the federal criminal justice system.

“While this measure is not a cure-all for the problems that plague our criminal justice system, this is an overdue step to improve a system that still imprisons too many people – particularly people of color – for committing nonviolent crimes. Instead, this bill will allow law enforcement to redirect taxpayer resources toward catching and punishing dangerous and violent criminals,” said Sen. Warner. 

The First Step Act, a bipartisan bill to lower the recidivism rate and reduce sentences for certain nonviolent offenders, tonight passed the Senate in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. The compromise legislation has support from a broad range of Democrats and Republicans, including President Trump, and has been endorsed by a number of law enforcement groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police (the nation’s largest police group), as well as the National District Attorneys Association, the American Bar Association, and the National Governors Association. 

Some of the changes included the First Step Act include: 

  • Under the bill, offenders who are deemed to be at low risk to commit more crimes will be given incentives to reduce their sentences and access to evidence-based programs (like drug treatment) to better prepare them to return to their neighborhoods and become productive members of the community.
  • The bill also contains a number of sentencing reforms: for instance, it gives federal judges more discretion in sentencing low-level non-violent offenders who cooperate with the government, so that the sentence truly fits the crime. It also reduces some mandatory minimums, and makes sure that only repeat offenders are subjected to the harshest forms of sentencing, as Congress intended.
  • And for a long time, the law disproportionately targeted African Americans by punishing possession of crack cocaine at a much higher level than powder cocaine. Under this bill, those who are serving sentences under those old, outdated federal laws can petition for sentence reductions – if they have a record of good behavior, and meet other qualifications.   

The legislation now heads to the House of Representatives, which earlier this year passed a similar bill in a broad bipartisan vote.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the below statement following the Canadian government’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei:

“There is ample evidence to suggest that no major Chinese company is independent of the Chinese government and Communist Party – and Huawei, which China’s government and military tout as a ‘national champion,’ is no exception. It has been clear for some time that Huawei, like ZTE, poses a threat to our national security. Now we know that Huawei, like ZTE, has violated U.S. sanctions law. It's my hope that the Trump Administration will hold Huawei fully accountable for breaking sanctions law, as it failed to do in the case of ZTE. 

“This is a reminder that we need to take seriously the risks of doing business with companies like Huawei and allowing them access to our markets. I continue to strongly urge our close ally Canada to reconsider Huawei’s inclusion in any aspect of its 5G infrastructure.” 

Sen. Warner, a former telecommunications executive and entrepreneur, has long expressed concerns about the risks to our national security posed by Chinese-controlled telecom companies.

On October 12, 2018, Sen. Warner and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging his country to reconsider Huawei’s inclusion in any aspect of Canada’s 5G development, introduction, and maintenance.

In September, Sen. Warner joined several colleagues to introduce the ZTE Enforcement Review and Oversight (ZERO) Act. The bipartisan bill would enforce full compliance by ZTE—a Chinese state-directed telecommunications firm that repeatedly violated U.S. laws – with all probationary conditions outlined in a Commerce Department deal with the company that lifted a denial order banning the export of U.S. parts and components.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) secured unanimous Senate passage of the Ashanti Alert Act, legislation that will create a new federal alert system for missing or endangered adults between the ages of 18-64. Currently, the U.S. does not have an alert system for missing adults.

The Ashanti Alert Act is named after Ashanti Billie, the 19-year-old who was abducted in Norfolk, Va. on September 18, 2017. Her body was discovered in North Carolina 11 days after she was first reported missing. At the time of Ashanti’s abduction, she was too old for an Amber Alert and too young for a Silver Alert. The Ashanti Alert, like the other alert systems, would notify the public about missing or endangered adults through radio and television broadcast systems to assist law enforcement in the search.

“Ashanti’s tragic death should not be in vain,” said Sen. Warner. “We must give law enforcement agencies and communities across the country the tools they need to locate missing adults and save more lives.” 

“I’m grateful to the family of Ashanti Billie for sharing her story with me and turning their grief and loss into meaningful action.  I’m proud to work with Senator Warner on this important legislation to create a real time alert system for missing adults, which will provide vital information to first responders and help save lives,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).  “I urge my House colleagues to pass this revised bill before the end of the year.” Sen. Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, teamed up with Sen. Warner on this legislation after hearing from Ashanti’s cousin, Connecticut State Representative Patricia Billie Miller.  

"Virginia led the way this past legislative session by implementing a law focused on enhancing a vital component of public safety - the Amber and Senior Alert systems," said Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran.  "Delegate Jay Jones spearheaded an effort to create an Amber Alert-like system for "critically missing" adults, upon hearing the heartbreaking story of a family whose 19 year old daughter went missing in the Norfolk area. Amber Alerts and Endangered Missing Child Media Alerts are for missing persons under the age 18; and Senior Alerts are issued for persons 60 years of age or older. This leaves a gap for adults between the ages of 18 and 60 years old. The 'Ashanti Alert', named after Ashanti Billie would address an important demographic of the population, and ensure that timely and efficient messaging is delivered to residents across Virginia to aid in search efforts. This law is a step in the right direction to ensuring a safer Commonwealth for all her residents."

“Senator Warner’s Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 will help ensure that law enforcement has the information necessary to swiftly recover missing persons and accurately inform the general public about breaking news of a missing or endangered adult,” said Bill Johnson, Executive Director, National Association of Police Organizations. “NAPO believes that the establishment of a stand-alone Ashanti Alert Network will help prevent horrible tragedies like case of Ashanti Billie.  We support the Ashanti Alert Act and thank Senator Warner for working with us on this important legislation.” 

“The NAACP is proud to support Senator Warner’s legislation, the Ashanti Alert Act,” said Mr. Hilary O. Shelton, the Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and the Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy. “Upon implementation of this law, we will be expanding the Amber Alert system, which has proven to be an effective tool, to include a demographic that is currently missing from its protections, those between the ages of 18 and 65.”

“The Ashanti Alert is long overdue,” said Camille Cooper, Director Government Affairs, The National Association to PROTECT Children. “For decades, emphasis has been on finding missing children, while missing endangered adults has largely been ignored. With increases in human trafficking, murder and intimate partner violence, it’s time that the national crisis of women disappearing and being subjected to violence is met with the urgency it deserves.”

In June, Gov. Northam signed into law legislation introduced by Del. Jay Jones creating a statewide Ashanti Alert system in Virginia. In September, the House of Representatives unanimously passed its version of the Ashanti Alert Act, which was introduced by outgoing Congressman Scott Taylor.

Sen. Warner spoke on the Senate floor yesterday to urge his colleagues to work with him to ensure the Ashanti Alert Act becomes law after the House bill—in its original form—was blocked from passing. Sen. Warner worked with his colleagues to make modifications to the bill to allow for its eventual passage.  Tonight, at Sen. Warner’s request, the bill was discharged from the Senate Judiciary Committee, modified, and then passed by unanimous consent on the Senate floor. Following its passage in the Senate, the bill now heads back to the House.

 

The full text of the amended bill can be found here.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement on Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen's guilty plea on charges of lying to the Intelligence Committee and other Congressional investigators about his involvement in the Trump Tower Moscow project during the 2016 election:

“This is yet another example of the President's closest allies lying about their contacts with Russia. With each indictment and each guilty plea, we learn more about the President’s connections to Russia in the midst of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. Special Counsel Mueller's investigation must continue — free from political interference by the President — until the truth is out, and Congress should pass legislation immediately to make sure that happens.” 

 

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Washington, DC – Top Senate and House Democrats today released a new letter to the Department of Justice’s Chief Ethics Official, Assistant Attorney General Lee J. Lofthus, in which they outline the number of serious ethical considerations that should preclude any involvement by President Trump’s handpicked Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker with the Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, and that require Mr. Whitaker’s immediate recusal. In the letter, the Democrats also request that the Department of Justice’s chief ethics officer immediately notify them whether he has advised Mr. Whitaker to recuse himself from supervision of the special counsel’s investigation.

The letter, signed by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Ranking Member Adam Schiff and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, includes a number of examples of Mr. Whitaker’s many conflicts of interest and hostile statements toward Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation. These include Mr. Whitaker’s televised statement suggesting that the investigation be defunded or subjected to strict limitations on its scope, a published online opinion piece referring to the investigation as a witch hunt, and a statement in which he pre-judged the outcome of the investigation.

 

The full text of the Democrats’ letter can be found here and below: 

 

November 11, 2018

 

The Honorable Lee J. Lofthus
Assistant Attorney General for Administration 

  and Designated Agency Ethics Officer

Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
Washington, DC 20530

 

Dear Assistant Attorney General Lofthus:

We are writing to you in your capacity as the Justice Department’s Designated Agency Ethics Official regarding the supervision of Special Counsel Robert Mueller by Mr. Mark Whitaker, the newly appointed Acting Attorney General.  There are serious ethical considerations that require Mr. Whitaker’s immediate recusal from any involvement with the Special Counsel investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.  

 

Mr. Whitaker has a history of hostile statements toward Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, including televised statements suggesting that the investigation be defunded or subjected to strict limitations on its scope.  On June 9, 2017—not even a month after the Special Counsel was appointed—Mr. Whitaker stated on a radio show:  “There is no criminal obstruction of justice charge to be had here.  The evidence is weak.  No reasonable prosecutor would bring a case.”[1]

 

On July 26, 2017, Mr. Whitaker stated that he “could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment and that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller but he just reduces his budget so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt.”[2]  Mr. Whitaker has also made reference to the Special Counsel investigation as “a mere witch hunt” and published an opinion article entitled “Mueller’s Investigation of Trump Is Going Too Far” in which he argued that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should place limits on the scope of the investigation.[3]  He has even claimed publicly that “[t]he left is trying to sow this theory that essentially Russians interfered with the U.S. election. Which has been proven false. They did not have any impact in the election that is very clear from the Obama Administration.”[4]  This statement demonstrates plainly that Mr. Whitaker has pre-judged the outcome of the Special Counsel investigation.

In addition to his public criticism of the Special Counsel investigation, Mr. Whitaker appears to have troubling conflicts of interest that may also require his recusal from the investigation.  In 2014, Mr. Whitaker served as chairman of the campaign of Sam Clovis to be Iowa State Treasurer, and Mr. Whitaker and Mr. Clovis have reportedly remained in close contact.[5]  Mr. Clovis served as a national co-chairman of the Trump presidential campaign, and in that capacity supervised George Papadopoulos, the Trump foreign policy advisor who sought to set up a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, and who has pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI regarding his contacts with agents of the Russian government.[6] As you know, following advice from career Department ethics officials, Attorney General Sessions recused from the Special Counsel investigation given his senior role on the Trump campaign and a series of undisclosed contacts with Russian government officials.[7] 

The official supervising the Special Counsel investigation must be – in both fact and appearance – independent and impartial.  Regrettably, Mr. Whitaker’s statements indicate a clear bias against the investigation that would cause a reasonable person to question his impartiality.  Allowing a vocal opponent of the investigation to oversee it will severely undermine public confidence in the Justice Department’s work on this critically important matter.  Mr. Whitaker’s relationship with Mr. Clovis, who is a grand jury witness in the Special Counsel investigation, as well as Mr. Whitaker’s other entanglements, raise additional concerns about his ability to supervise the investigation independently and impartially.  

For these reasons, we request that you immediately notify us in writing regarding whether you, or any other ethics officials at the Justice Department, have advised Mr. Whitaker to recuse from supervision of the Special Counsel investigation, and the basis for that recommendation.  We also request that you provide us all ethics guidance the Department has provided to Mr. Whitaker to date.

Sincerely,

 

Charles E. Schumer

Democratic Leader

U.S. Senate

 

Nancy Pelosi

Democratic Leader

U.S. House of Representatives

 

Dianne Feinstein

Ranking Member

Committee on the Judiciary

U.S. Senate

 

Jerrold Nadler

Ranking Member

Committee on the Judiciary

U.S. House of Representatives

 

Mark R. Warner

Vice Chairman

Select Committee on Intelligence

U.S. Senate

 

Adam B. Schiff

Ranking Member

Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

U.S. House of Representatives

 

Elijah Cummings

Ranking Member

Committee on Oversight &

Government Reform

U.S. House of Representatives

 

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[1] The David Webb Show (June 9, 2017) (online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYQzupQzNOQ).

[2] CNN Tonight, CNN (July 26, 2017) (online at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1707/26/cnnt.01.html).

[3] Matthew Whitaker, Mueller’s Investigation of Trump Is Going Too Far, CNN (Aug. 6, 2017) (online at www.cnn.com/2017/08/06/opinions/rosenstein-should-curb-mueller-whittaker-opinion/index.html).

[4] The Chosen Generation Radio Program (Mar. 3, 2017) (online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCA120DtAhI).

[5] See, e.g.Whitaker’s Friendship with Trump Aide Reignites Recusal Debate, Reuters (Nov. 8, 2018) (online at www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-whitaker/whitakers-friendship-with-trump-aide-reignites-recusal-debate-idUSKCN1ND2SN).

[6] Statement of the Offense, United States v. Papadopoulos (D.D.C. Oct. 5, 2017) (online at www.justice.gov/file/1007346/download).

[7] Attorney General Sessions Statement on Recusal, Department of Justice (Mar. 2, 2017) (online at www.justice.gov/opa/pr/attorney-general-sessions-statement-recusal).

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement on the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

“No one is above the law and any effort to interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation would be a gross abuse of power by the President. While the President may have the authority to replace the Attorney General, this must not be the first step in an attempt to impede, obstruct or end the Mueller investigation.

“Senators from both parties have repeatedly affirmed their support for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Every one of them should speak out now and deliver a clear message to the President that the Special Counsel’s investigation must continue without interference.”  

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C.  – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to the White House recommending Patricia Tolliver Giles and U.S. Magistrate Judge David J. Novak for the vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division.  

“We are pleased to recommend Ms. Patricia Tolliver Giles and U.S. Magistrate Judge David J. Novak for the vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division following Judge Henry E. Hudson’s decision to take senior status in June. Both would serve with great distinction and have our highest recommendation,” the Senators said.

Warner and Kaine recommend these individuals based on the assessments of an independent panel of attorneys from across the Commonwealth as well as feedback from numerous bar associations in Virginia. The White House will now nominate one individual for the position to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The nomination is subject to confirmation by the full Senate.

Full text of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division letter is available here.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement today on his decision to vote against the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court:

“This is the most consequential Supreme Court vacancy in a generation, yet it has been the least transparent confirmation process in recent history. Thanks to unprecedented efforts by the Trump Administration to conceal large portions of Judge Kavanaugh’s record and the nominee’s unwillingness to answer basic questions before the Judiciary Committee, much of Judge Kavanaugh's record and judicial philosophy remain a mystery to the American people. But what we have seen provides reason enough to vote against this nominee.

“His past rulings, writings, and evasive answers before the Judiciary Committee lead to the inescapable conclusion that, as a Supreme Court justice, Judge Kavanaugh would seek to undermine and eventually overturn Roe v. Wade, and would fail to protect people with pre-existing conditions from discrimination by insurance companies.

“I am also deeply troubled by Judge Kavanaugh’s views on executive power. We currently have a president whose conduct is at the center of a federal criminal investigation, but in his testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Judge Kavanaugh refused to say whether he thinks it is constitutional for presidents to be investigated, and whether he continues to believe that the president has the power to fire a prosecutor criminally investigating him. In this country, no one, not even the president, is above the law. Should the president’s legal team decide, as they have threatened, to contest that principle in court, it is imperative that the Supreme Court ensure that the president is held accountable.

“For all these reasons, I must vote no on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination.”


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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement after the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed G. Zachary Terwilliger to fill the vacancy of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia: 

“We are pleased that our colleagues agreed Zachary Terwilliger is well-qualified to serve as the next U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia,” the Senators said. “Mr. Terwilliger has ample experience in the Eastern District, and we’re glad he will be able to continue his good work in Virginia.”

Terwilliger previously served in the U.S. Department of Justice as Associate Deputy Attorney General and Chief of Staff in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General. 

Warner and Kaine recommended Terwilliger to the White House for nomination to the position after a panel of attorneys from across the Commonwealth—selected by Warner and Kaine—evaluated candidates and determined Terwilliger was highly qualified for the position. The Eastern District of Virginia has offices in Alexandria, Richmond, Newport News, and Norfolk.

 

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One Year After Deadly Charlottesville Rally, Warner & Kaine Press DOJ for Updates on Combating Racial Hate

Letter presses the Administration on carrying out actions to combat hate crimes as outlined in joint resolution led last year by Warner and Kaine

Aug 10 2018

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) wrote a letter to John Gore, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice (DOJ), pressing for more answers on how the Administration is implementing actions specifically outlined by S.J.Res.49, a joint resolution condemning racial hate and directing a coordinated federal effort to address hate violence, following the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Va. on August 11 and August 12, 2017.

The bipartisan resolution introduced by Sens. Warner and Kaine along with Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), unanimously passed both chambers of Congress and was signed into law by President Trump on September 14, 2017. The resolution explicitly condemned white nationalists, white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other hate groups involved in prompting the deadly attack in Charlottesville, Va. that killed counter-protester Heather Heyer, injured several others, and led to the deaths of two Virginia state troopers responding to the violence. Additionally, the resolution outlined specific actions for the Administration to take to fight hate violence, including thoroughly investigating all acts of hate crimes and domestic terrorism by hate groups, and calling upon the Administration to “use all resources available to the President and the President's Cabinet to address the growing prevalence of those hate groups in the United States.”

Now, nearly one year after the bipartisan resolution was signed into law by President Trump, Sens. Warner and Kaine are pressing for answers on actions the Administration is taking - or not taking - to uphold the terms of the resolution calling for a coordinated federal effort to fight hate violence. 

“We are particularly interested if you have implemented, or plan to implement, the following: the creation of a task force dedicated to addressing hate violence, sufficient funding for civil rights offices, robust data collection procedures to document the prevalence and nature of hate crimes in the U.S., a federal website on hate violence to convene resources and communicate effectively to the public, the development of incentives for participation in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hate Crime Statistics Act reports, increased training and education for jurisdictions that underreport hate crimes, and the use of grants to promote strong enforcement on these issues,” wrote the Senators.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

 

John M. Gore
Acting Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Acting Assistant Attorney General Gore:

Nearly one year has passed since the violence and domestic terrorist attack that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia between August 11 and August 12, 2017. As the one year anniversary of that tragedy approaches, we write regarding the progress made by the Department of Justice in carrying out the actions called for in S.J.Res.49, a joint resolution condemning that event.

President Trump signed the resolution into law (P.L. 115-58) on September 14, 2017. As Virginia’s Senators, we led the effort that unanimously passed both chambers of Congress and was signed into law by the President. The legislation rejects White nationalists, White supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis, and other hate groups, and urges action from the President and his administration to combat this growing threat.

Specifically, the law urges the Attorney General to work with “the Secretary of Homeland Security to investigate thoroughly all acts of violence, intimidation, and domestic terrorism by these groups to determine if any criminal laws have been violated and to prevent those groups from fomenting and facilitating additional violence.” Further, the law directs the Attorney General to collaborate with “the heads of other Federal agencies to improve the reporting of hate crimes and to emphasize the importance of the collection, and the reporting to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, of hate crime data by State and local agencies.”

More broadly, the law directs the administration to use all available resources to address the growing prevalence of hate groups.

Given the direction provided to the Department of Justice in this legislation, we request that you provide our offices an update within 30 days of receipt of this letter on activities that you have undertaken in furtherance of the provisions of S.J. Res 49, as well as a full report on the multi-agency efforts on hate crimes data collection.

As you implement this request, we are particularly interested if you have implemented, or plan to implement, the following: the creation of a task force dedicated to addressing hate violence, sufficient funding for civil rights offices, robust data collection procedures to document the prevalence and nature of hate crimes in the U.S., a federal website on hate violence to convene resources and communicate effectively to the public, the development of incentives for participation in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hate Crime Statistics Act reports, increased training and education for jurisdictions that underreport hate crimes, and the use of grants to promote strong enforcement on these issues.

We appreciate your attention on this important matter and look forward to your response within 30 days.

 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) issued the below statement on the status of a new headquarters building for the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

“Congress worked with GSA and the FBI for years to put together a comprehensive plan and bidding process to replace the current deteriorating headquarters building. With no warning and no rationale, the Trump Administration halted that process, and since then, has made no progress on replacing a building whose condition will only get worse in the years to come. That’s one reason why it is important that we see the results of the IG investigation into this decision. Our hardworking law enforcement and intelligence professionals deserve a state-of-the-art and secure facility. Having President Trump micromanage this complex procurement – with so many other issues on his plate and so many questions about apparent conflicts of interest here – just isn’t helpful to these public servants or to the region.”

Sens. Warner and Kaine have for years worked with the Maryland Senators as well as the bipartisan Virginia delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives to secure funding for a new FBI headquarters to replace the current, deteriorating J. Edgar Hoover building in Washington, which was built in 1974. In 2014, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced that a site in Springfield, Va. was one of three finalists for a consolidated HQ that would house all 11,000 area FBI employees, who are currently scattered across multiple sites in D.C., Virginia and Maryland. However, in July 2017, the Trump Administration abruptly backed away from more than five years of government preparations to relocate the FBI HQ, announcing instead in February 2018 plans to demolish the existing FBI headquarters in Washington and build a new facility in its place. The GSA has estimated that this new plan would cost $3.3 billion – including $1.9 billion in construction costs, added to the cost of temporarily relocating thousands of FBI employees while the existing structure is demolished and a new building constructed in its place.

 

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Washington, DC – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) led 14 Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees in asking leaders at the Department of Justice to detail the ethical agreements binding the newly confirmed head of the Department’s Criminal Division, Brian Benczkowski.  The information would shed light on whether Benczkowski—a nominee noted as uniquely underqualified, who served as an aide to then-Senator Jeff Sessions and on the Trump transition team, and who represented a Russian bank some suspect may have served as a clandestine back channel between Russia and the Trump Organization—has done enough to insulate himself from potentially serious conflicts of interest, including those involving Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian attacks on the 2016 election.

Joining Whitehouse and Durbin in sending the letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee Lofthus are Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), and Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Jack Reed (D-RI).

Among the senators’ concerns is the potential for Benczkowski, now privy to details of a broad array of Justice Department investigations and prosecutions, to access information on the Special Counsel investigation.  They also raise Benczkowski’s commitment to recuse himself from matters related to the Russian bank linked to the Trump Organization, Alfa Bank—a recusal that does not encompass the bank’s parent company, Alfa Group Consortium.  Events of the past week illustrate several of the issues with Benczkowski’s past employment and current position, the senators point out, suggesting the only remedy is a blanket recusal.

Without recusal,” the senators write, “there is a risk that Mr. Benczkowski would have oversight of investigative steps such as the Special Counsel’s recent request for use immunity for five witnesses in the SCO’s prosecution of Paul Manafort.  Likewise, last Tuesday, the Department indicted a Russian national, Mariia Butina, for acting and conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government.  . . . Mr. Benczkowski’s involvement in these actions could, at a minimum, create the appearance of a conflict or undue influence over these decisions.”

The senators continue, “Given Mr. Benczkowski’s prior relationship with the Attorney General and his representation of Alfa Bank—particularly in connection to the Steele Dossier—we believe Mr. Benczkowski should be recused from all aspects of the Special Counsel investigation, as well as from all matters related to the Alfa Group Consortium and its principals.  A categorical recusal is the only way for the Department to ensure public confidence in those and any associated investigations.” 

The Criminal Division is responsible for overseeing a stable of over 700 criminal attorneys charged with overseeing and prosecuting high-profile federal cases nationwide.  Benczkowski has no prosecutorial experience and has spent virtually no time in a courtroom. 

Full text of the senators’ letter is below.  A PDF version is available here.    

 

 

July 24, 2018

 

 

The Honorable Rod J. Rosenstein

Deputy Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

 

The Honorable Lee J. Lofthus

Assistant Attorney General for Administration

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

 

Dear Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Assistant Attorney General Lofthus:

 

On Wednesday, July 11, 2018, the Senate confirmed Brian Benczkowski to be Assistant Attorney General (AAG) of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (“Department”).  Today, we write for further information concerning Mr. Benczkowski’s ethics agreement with the Department, the scope of his recusals, any waivers he has been granted, and any other information relevant to the Department’s review of Mr. Benczkowski’s prior work at it relates to his compliance with the Ethics in Government Act, associated regulations, Department policy, and the Trump Ethics Pledge, Executive Order 13770. 

 

The context of Mr. Benczkowski’s selection to lead the Criminal Division raises concerns that must be addressed in your review.  With no prosecutorial experience and barely any time in a courtroom of any sort, Mr. Benczkowski appears to have been nominated at least in part as a result of his prior, political relationship with Attorney General Sessions.  With the Attorney General recused from the Department’s Russia investigation, President Trump repeatedly violating rules and norms designed to protect the independence of that investigation, and House Republicans engaged in an active campaign to discredit the Department and FBI and make confidential investigative materials public, the Department and its ethics officials should take the utmost precautions to prevent any backchannel, unauthorized disclosures of the Special Counsel’s work.  

 

The issues with Mr. Benczkowski extend to his experience, as well as his lack of experience.  During the course of his confirmation proceedings, it came to light that as a lawyer in private practice, Mr. Benczkowski recently represented the Russian Alfa Bank in connection with allegations that its servers had maintained a clandestine back channel to the Trump Organization.  Mr. Benczkowski’s representation of Alfa Bank also included a review of the so-called “Steele dossier,” the private intelligence report by Christopher Steele that bears on issues central to the ongoing Special Counsel investigation into Russian election interference and related matters.  

 

Before his confirmation, Mr. Benczkowski committed to recuse himself, if confirmed as AAG, from all matters related to Alfa Bank.[1]  He did not, however, commit to recuse himself from all matters related to the Alfa Group Consortium, the parent company of Alfa Bank, or individuals related to that entity.  He also did not commit to recuse himself from the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference.  Three individuals with ownership interests in Alfa Group Consortium—Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven, and German Khan—have been identified to Congress by the United States Department of Treasury as among “senior foreign officials and oligarchs in the Russian Federation, as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth.”[2]  A son-in-law of Mr. Khan, Alex Van der Zwaan, pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators.[3] 

 

With respect to those matters, Mr. Benczkowski told the Senate Judiciary Committee:

 

Because I do not know the scope of [the Department’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election or Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation], I cannot commit to such a recusal at this time.  If I am confirmed and a matter comes before me in the Criminal Division where I believe recusal might be warranted, I will review the facts, consult with career ethics officials at the Department, and make a decision as warranted by the law and the facts.[4]

 

In prior correspondence with the Senate, the Department has confirmed that the Special Counsel’s Office (SCO) may need to “seek approvals from the Criminal Division as required by statute, regulation, or policy[.]”[5]  The Department has also committed that “if Mr. Benczkowski is confirmed as AAG, the Department will require his consultation with appropriate ethics experts within the Department prior to his participation in or supervision of the SCO’s interaction with the Criminal Division.”[6]

 

The significance of these determinations was underscored by two steps taken by the Department just last week.  For example, without recusal, there is a risk that Mr. Benczkowski would have oversight of investigative steps such as the Special Counsel’s recent request for use immunity for five witnesses in the SCO’s prosecution of Paul Manafort.  Likewise, last Tuesday, the Department indicted a Russian national, Mariia Butina, for acting and conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government.  The indictment was handed down by a grand jury in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and signed by the District’s United States Attorney, Jessie Liu.  Mr. Benczkowski’s involvement in these actions could, at a minimum, create the appearance of a conflict or undue influence over these decisions.

 

Given Mr. Benczkowski’s prior relationship with the Attorney General and his representation of Alfa Bank—particularly in connection to the Steele Dossier—we believe Mr. Benczkowski should be recused from all aspects of the Special Counsel investigation, as well as from all matters related to the Alfa Group Consortium and its principals.  A categorical recusal is the only way for the Department to ensure public confidence in those and any associated investigations.  To further understand the Department’s position and decisions related to Mr. Benczkowski’s conflicts of interest, we request that you provide the following documentation and, as applicable, address the following questions:

 

  • All ethics agreements, recusals, waivers, or other documentation pertaining to the scope of Mr. Benczkowski’s duties at the Department. 
  • All counseling notes, emails, and any other communication between Mr. Benczkowski, the Department’s Ethics Office, and the Office of Government Ethics.  
  • A copy of Mr. Benczkowski’s signed “Ethics Pledge.”
  • If Mr. Benczkowski has not been recused from all matters related to the Alfa Group Consortium, please explain why.
  • If Mr. Benczkowski has not been recused from all matters related to Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven, and/or German Khan, please explain why.
  • What was Mr. Benczkowski’s involvement, if any, in the Department’s request for use immunity for five witnesses in the SCO’s prosecution of Paul Manafort, and in the Department’s decision to charge Mariia Butina?
  • If Mr. Benczkowski has not been recused from all matters related to the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, or related investigations and prosecutions conducted by the Department or United States Attorneys’ offices, please explain why.

In Mr. Lofthus’s February 26, 2018, letter to Office of Government Ethics Acting Director David Apol, he stated that Mr. Benczkowski would meet with ethics officials during his first week of service and complete document compliance with his ethics agreement within 90 days of service.  The critical importance and pendency of matters before the Department demand assurances that Mr. Benczkowski will have no role, consultative or otherwise, in them until his ethics arrangements are complete.  Accordingly, we request a response to this letter no later than July 31, 2018.  

 

 

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[1] See Response from Brian Benczkowski to Question for the Record #2 from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, August 1, 2017 (“I have decided to recuse myself from any matter involving Alfa Bank for the duration of my service as the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, if I am confirmed.”).

[2] Report to Congress Pursuant to Section 241 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 Regarding Senior Foreign Political Figures and Oligarchs in the Russian Federation and Russian Parastatal Entities, January 29, 2018. 

[3] The Special Counsel referenced Mr. Khan in his sentencing memorandum for Mr. Van der Zwaan: “Van der Zwaan is a person of ample financial means—both personally and through his father-in-law, a prominent Russian oligarch, who has paid substantial sums to the defendant and his wife.  He can pay any fine imposed.”  Government’s Sentencing Memorandum, Crim. No. 18-31 (D.D.C) filed Mar. 27, 2018.  

[4] Response from Brian Benczkowski to Question for the Record #3 from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, August 1, 2017. 

[5] Letter from Hon. Stephen Boyd to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Dec. 11, 2017.

[6] Id.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court:

“There is much at stake with President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacancy created by Justice Kennedy’s retirement. The next Supreme Court justice will determine whether women will maintain their constitutional right to reproductive health care; whether we will continue to protect people with pre-existing conditions from discrimination; whether we are a country that lives by our values when it comes to voting rights, women’s rights, workers' rights, and the rights of LGBT Americans. The stakes are made that much higher by an Administration that routinely violates longstanding norms and pushes ethical boundaries past the breaking point. We need a Supreme Court that can act as a check on the executive branch now more than ever. 

“Time and time again, President Trump has said that he will only nominate candidates who will vote to undermine those rights and who will work to overturn Roe v. Wade. That simple fact, and that this nominee comes from a list put together by ultra-conservative groups who do not support these core values, give me grave concerns that Judge Kavanaugh is not the right pick to serve on our nation’s highest court.

“I plan to carefully examine Judge Kavanaugh's record and judicial philosophy. I cannot and will not support a nominee who would take this country backwards by undermining our fundamental rights and American values.” 

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement on the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy:

“I am grateful to Justice Kennedy for his many decades of service to our country, and wish him all the best in his retirement.

“In just four months, the American people will determine the makeup of the United States Senate. Given the precedent set by Leader McConnell in 2016, it is only appropriate that the Senate wait until the new Congress is seated to consider any nomination to the Supreme Court.”

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement on the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy:

“I am grateful to Justice Kennedy for his many decades of service to our country, and wish him all the best in his retirement.

“In just four months, the American people will determine the makeup of the United States Senate. Given the precedent set by Leader McConnell in 2016, it is only appropriate that the Senate wait until the new Congress is seated to consider any nomination to the Supreme Court.”

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement on the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the President’s travel ban: 

“The only thing the Supreme Court decided today was that the President’s actions were constitutional. While I disagree with the court, today’s decision does not make the President’s actions or statements related to the travel ban moral or just. We need to fight religious discrimination at every turn. Congress should take action to reverse the Trump travel ban.”

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement on the President’s nomination of Judge Rossie David Alston, Jr. to serve on the Eastern District Court of Virginia. If confirmed by the Senate, Judge Alston would be the only African American judge serving in the Alexandria Division:

“We are pleased that the President has nominated Judge Alston to the vacancy and are confident his experiences on the state bench will serve him well at the federal level. He fills large shoes in replacing Judge Gerald Bruce Lee, who served with great distinction, and we hope Judge Alston can proudly carry on his legacy. We urge the Department of Justice to send background materials to the Judiciary Committee as soon as possible so our colleagues can review his record and promptly advance his nomination.” 

In December, Warner and Kaine sent a letter to President Trump, recommending Judge Alston for the vacancy.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner  and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) are now accepting applications for the position of U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia to succeed U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, who has announced he will take senior status on June 1, 2018. An independent panel of lawyers assembled by the Senators will review applications and interview qualified individuals. The Senators will then use those recommendations, as well as input from bar associations and experts, as they consider potential nominees to recommend to President Trump. The White House will then nominate an individual to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The nomination is subject to confirmation by the full Senate.

 

Interested applicants should visit Senator Warner’s website for application instructions. The application period will close May 18, 2018.

 

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